If you listen to your dogs, they will tell you what they need

You will often hear me saying the phrase “I love Pudge” - the affectionate nickname we give my hefty beefcake of a dog, Rocky. He has been a part of my life for over three years. I found him in northern Vermont at a shelter I was working for at the time. It was love at first sight.

Throughout the years, Rocky has taught me so much about dogs and our relationships with them. Not only that, but their relationships with one another as well. They are all so unique; dog behavior, suddenly, was not as black-and-white as I had always thought.

Disclaimer: Rocky is a no-doubt-about-it-full-fledged pit bull (Staffordshire bull terrier, to be exact). As an ambassador for the breed myself, there's a lot of things about the pit bull taboo that get on my nerves - none quite like, however, the phrase, “It's all in how they're raised.”

The word “aggression” has become a danger word, a shameful word for dog owners.

Every year, approximately 3.3 million dogs are surrendered to an animal shelter within the U.S. Of that number, approximately 670,000 will be euthanized for a host of different reasons, highest among them “aggression.” This is because these days, people want a dog their kids can ride on like a freaking pony, and anything less is considered dangerous and a liability.

Education in canine behavior is seriously lacking in American households. We have become so attached to our pets that we expect them to speak our language and always understand our intentions; however, so many people have very little interest in learning about what their dog is trying to say to them. At some point, we decided that dogs are no longer allowed to tell us what they need.

It is true: boundaries and rules are very important in dog ownership, not only for you as their owner but for them, so they can coexist with confidence. But if, for example, your dog gets anxious and angry about sharing his toys with you, your kids, or your other pets, that is okay - just take the toys out of the equation.

Believing that is a punishment or a negative thing is an example of us not putting ourselves in their paws. I have heard people tell me things like, “My male dog should be able to play appropriately with other males because the one I had before him did great,” or “My neighbor's dog loves kids, so why doesn't mine?”

These owners might be forgetting:

1. Their previous male dog mounted all their guests.

2. The neighbor's dog may love kids but bites them when they go near their food bowl.

3. Each dog is different.

Your dog, if you listen, will let you know what they can and cannot handle. Rocky, for example, cannot handle meeting other canine friends without a very specific introduction process. And after that process? He can handle playing with them only without toys. He also hates strollers - their existence is sketchy and unexplainable to him.

Do these personality traits make Rocky dangerous? No way! It makes him an individual, and I can work with that; a small group of dog pals and no creepy strollers, and I have myself a (fairly) normal dog!

Moral of the story? Listen to your canine companions. Take time to learn about what they need and what they are saying in their own, unique dog ways.

They can teach you a lot if you take the time to listen.

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